"You're always going to be tearing away at yourself until you come to terms with what you are. Until you come full circle"—Col. Trautman
"NOTHING IS OVER! NOTHING!!—Rambo
A series of action/drama films starring Sylvester Stallone as emotionally troubled Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, who was a former member of the United States Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. First Blood, released in 1982 and the first film in the series, was based on the 1972 David Morrell novel of the same name.
First Blood deals with Rambo struggling to overcome the trauma he experienced during the Vietnam War. After a mini-war with the entire police station of a small Washington State town, Rambo confronts the sheriff at the station and is about to kill him when Rambo's former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman, tells him that it's over. Rambo replies with "Nothing is over!" and has an emotional breakdown where he tells Trautman about the protesters at the airport, how honor and loyalty mean nothing in the real world, and how his friend Joey was killed by a shoe-shining boy in a suicide attack. With nothing left to live for, Rambo decides to turn himself in to the authorities.
The film was followed by Rambo: First Blood Part II, which was released in 1985 and was an enormous success. In the film, Rambo is released from prison by Marshall Murdock and sent on a mission to find American POWs in Vietnam. When he does, Murdock orders that Rambo be abandoned and all evidence of the mission be destroyed. Rambo manages to escape from Vietnam, returns to Murdock's command center, destroys it with a machine gun, and threatens Murdock with a knife to get the POWs out of Vietnam. In the end, Rambo tells Trautman that he and other war veterans want their country to love them as much as they love it, and that he would gladly die for his country.
The third film, which was simply titled Rambo III and released in 1988, begins with Trautman tracking down Rambo and asking him to join him on a mission to Afghanistan to assist the Afghan freedom fighters who are fighting against the Soviets in the Soviet-Afghan war. Despite being shown pictures of suffering civilians, Rambo refuses and Trautman goes alone. But when Trautman is ambushed and captured by the Soviets, Rambo must go in and rescue him. Just like the James Bond film The Living Daylights, Rambo III features Afghan mujahideen as good guys, before they morphed into generic terrorists following the 9/11 attacks.
After a twenty-year hiatus, Stallone returned to the franchise with the fourth film in the series, titled simply Rambo (the film's original production title was John Rambo, partially because of Stallone's other major franchise sequel, Rocky Balboa). Living alone near the Burmese border, Rambo is asked by a group of American missionaries to take them to Burma on a humanitarian effort. While transporting them, they are ambushed by pirates. When negotiations fail, Rambo kills all the pirates, which disturbs the missionaries, but doesn't fully dissuade them from going to the village in Burma - where they end up being captured during an attack. After ten days, Rambo is asked by a pastor associated with the missionaries to lead a group of mercenaries on a rescue mission, to which he reluctantly agrees.
Prior to Rambo, however, a cute and heartwarming Gaiden of sorts was created in 2008 by British director Garth Jennings called Son of Rambow. The film details the misadventures of two boys in 1982 who tried to remake First Blood with a bulky VHS-Camera and the vibrant imagination of ten year olds. Sylvester Stallone himself is said to have loved the film.
A fifth Rambo film was planned, and details varied as to the plot of the film (one potential plot would have seen Rambo face off against some sort of supernatural/alien creature). However, that project seems to have stalled, and Rambo will remain the final film in the franchise at least with Stallone, who has said the rights holders may make their own sequel but once he finishes a few cuts on the Blu-Ray he's done with the character.
Both the films and the character have enjoyed massive success and popularity, and - alongside the Rocky series - catapulted Stallone to the position of a major action hero and film star. After the release of the first three Rambo films, Morrell went on to write the novelizations of the first two Rambo sequels because he wanted to include characterization that he felt wasn't in said sequels. There was also a 1986 animated TV series called Rambo : the Force of Freedom that lasted 65 episodes and spawned a line of toys; a few comic books starring the character; a soundtrack for all films except Rambo III and the animated series; and many video games including the NES version of Rambo and the Sega Master System versions of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: In First Blood, Rambo's breakdown and monologue in the end. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, the scene with Rambo and Co on the boat where he tells her he's "expendable". There are several in Rambo IV between Rambo and Sarah, most notably her pointing out "Maybe you're right, maybe we won't change anything. But trying to save a life isn't wasting your life." Unfortunately, many of these were cut.
- Action Girl: Co.
- Animated Adaptation: Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a Sixty-Five-Episode Cartoon which aired in 1986 alongside a tie-in toyline which was basically a G.I. Joe clone with Rambo as the lead character.
- Appropriated Title: The first movie was actually called First Blood. It wasn't until the sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, that the Rambo name was used at all.
- The Archer: Rambo uses a compound bow to great effect from Part II onward, primarily for stealthy kills, but he also screws on some high-explosive warheads whenever shit just needs to get blow'd up.
- Artistic License Gun Safety: In the first film, John Rambo could've just as easily sat back and let the sheriff and his deputies kill each other in friendly fire accidents (fingers on triggers, sweeping muzzles through heads and chests, etc).
- Asian Gal with White Guy: Co, the Vietnamese Love Interest for Rambo in the First Blood Part II.
- Asshole Victim: Chances are any villain will be one.
- An Asskicking Christmas: First movie.
- Awesome McCoolname: Say it out loud: John. RAMBO. This name oozes pure testosterone and has been widely adapted as a synonym for raging Badass. It also helps that in Japanese (乱暴, rambou) it means violent, rough, lawless.. The character was named after a breed of apple which was, in turn, named after a Swedish-American immigrant.
- Awesome Yet Practical: Rambo's home-made knife in the fourth movie.
- Badass Bandolier: Rambo has worn a lot of them.
- Badass Boast: Lewis in Part 4, right after the event described in the Mamet Speak entry below
Lewis "God didn't save your life! We did!"
- Which is a variation on Colonel Trautman's line from First Blood:
Sheriff Teasle: What would possess God in Heaven to make a man like Rambo?
Trautman: God didn't make Rambo. I made him!
- Rambo III has Trautman's boast about Rambo coming to rescue him, and the Soviet forces won't be able to stop him.
Soviet Commander: Who do you think he is? God?
Trautman: God would have mercy. He won't.
- Followed later by Rambo introducing himself to the Soviet Commander over the radio of one of the Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces, literally Rambo's opposite number) troopers he's just killed:
Rambo: Are you listening?
Soviet Commander: Who are you!?
Rambo: Your worst nightmare.
- Badass Crew: The mercenaries from Part 4. Rambo becomes their Sixth Ranger. There was also his old army unit Bravo Delta, of which he is the only survivor.
- Well, there were two survivors, but the other one died of Agent Orange-caused cancer after returning to the States (as we learn in the opening scenes of First Blood).
- Badass Grandpa: Colonel Trautman in the first three movies (especially the third). Rambo himself became one in the fourth movie, since Stallone was 62 without showing it.
- Bald of Awesome: One of the mercenaries in Part 4. Has a penchant for headbutting.
- Baleful Polymorph / Big Lipped Alligator Moment: During the ending of the NES adaptation of First Blood: Part II, the player can throw Japanese text at Murdoch, which turns him into a frog.
- BFG: among others, the 50-cal machine gun that Rambo uses to slaughter the military in the fourth movie, thoroughly wrecking a truck and a patrol boat in the process.
- The anti-material sniper rifle, coincidentally running on the same rounds as the machine gun, which Schoolboy so expertly uses to blast enemy soldiers in half and to vaporize heads.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Rebels save Rambo in the nick of time in Parts 3 and 4.
- Likewise, Rambo saves a group of Burmese civilians (who are being forced to run through a minefield) with his bow in the fourth film when the mercenaries won't do anything.
- Bloodier and Gorier: All of the sequels, but Part 4 really ups the blood and body count.
- The first movie actually inverts this from the book. In the novel, Rambo kills at least a dozen people. In the movie he kills three people at most - one guy who falls out of a helicopter when Rambo throws a rock at him in self-defense and two cops who he ran off the road (And who quite possibly survived).
- Book Ends: For the whole series. First Blood begins with Rambo walking along a lonely road to visit a friend. Rambo ends with him walking a road which will take him home.
- Break the Haughty: Michael the missionary leader believes in law but by the end he beats a soldier to death with a rock to save one of the mercenaries. The "My God, What Have I Done?" look on his face says it all.
- Which just proves Rambo's words "When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing"
- Brick Joke: A sick one in John Rambo. He warned one of the missionaries not to look the Burmese in the eye. He does this later after he is captured and is then fed to pigs.
- Broken Aesop: First Blood - two hours illustrating and condemning the dehumanization of soldiers. The sequels - two hours of gleeful carnage by a One-Man Army.
- In addiction, as said in Cracked.com's The 5 Most Needlessly Evil Movie Villain Strategies: "First Blood is a poignant tale about the American institutions' failure to reintegrate war veterans into society, and about how we shouldn't chase them with dogs and helicopters for absolutely no reason. We agree, movie!"
- But Thou Must!: At the beginning of the NES version, Commander Trautman gives Rambo a mission that may be difficult. If the player chooses, "I feel safer in prison," the commander won't take no for an answer and will keep repeating that until the player chooses, "I'm not afraid of death."
- The Cavalry: Afghan rebels in the third movie, literally; Karen rebels in the fourth.
- Chekhov's Gun: Oh, I'm sure that unexploded ordnance won't be important later.
- Colonel Badass: Colonel Sam Trautman. He gets more play in the books, and in the first book, he's actually the man who kills Rambo -- blowing his old student's head off with a shotgun.
- You'll need to wait until Rambo III to see him kick any ass in the movies, however.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Rambo himself. As you could probably guess from the chart, this is played for tragedy in the first movie but quickly sidelined in the rest.
- Dead Little Buddy: Rambo's friend Joey (killed in Vietnam) in the first movie; Co (the Vietnamese woman he loves) in the second.
- Defiant to the End: The mercenaries in the fourth movie.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Christmas decorations are visible throughout the first movie, though nobody ever actually makes mention of the holiday.
- Supposedly, the Christmas decorations were already up when they began shooting, and they left them both for the ironic quality and to wordlessly remind the viewer that Rambo is on the lam in a wifebeater and jeans during a very cold time of the year.
- Depraved Homosexual: The Big Bad of Part 4 is a pedophile.
- The fact that it was a boy he raped seemed irrelevant; he just wanted to rape something, regardless of gender.
- Dirty Communists: The Vietnamese in First Blood Part II and Soviets in Rambo III.
- Dirty Coward: The Burmese commander. He commits all kind of war crimes and other horrible things, but once a real battle appears, he immediately runs away while leaving his own troops to the slaughter after shooting an innocent missionary In the Back.
- Dirty Harriet: Co poses as a prostitute to get inside the prison camp where Rambo is held in the second movie.
- Disposable Woman: Co's death is pretty much to give Rambo a reason to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Divorced Installment: For the Rambo Master System game, Sega's license was only applicable for the American version, so when it ended up being released in Japan and Europe, it was relabeled Ashura and Secret Commando respectively, with all use of Rambo imagery and theme music taken out.
- Electric Torture: Effectively shows just how Badass Rambo is by having him take hours of an entire camp's electricity and still be alive afterward.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Part 4. The missionaries only call Rambo "John", after Sarah asks what his name is. The mercenaries know him as "the boatman".
- Evil Counterpart: Murdock for Troutman.
- Fighting For a Homeland/La Résistance: The Afghans in the third movie; the Karen warriors in the fourth.
- Flanderization: John Rambo killed precisely one guy in the first film. From II onward, Rambo was a Badass who made lots of bodies out of anyone in his way. Plus, the first film's kill is accidental and arguably Karmic Death as well, since Galt, the guy who was killed, was going out of his way to antagonize Rambo.
- Flesh Versus Steel: Part 3 had the Afghans on horseback vs. the mechanized Soviets.
- Foreshadowing: Right before Rambo is gonna to save the missionaries, he makes a philosophical thought about "war is in your blood. God can't make that go away". During the last battle, the leader of the pacifistic missionaries smash one soldier to death with a rock, acting only on survival instincts.
- One of the mercenaries kept constantly calling the Big Bad a gutless fuck. Then Rambo guts the said Big Bad in the end.
- Forging Scene: In the fourth film. Third movie also had it, but it was cut.
- The first one had Rambo building and setting up a bunch of traps and making arrows from freshly cut wood.
- Friendly Sniper: Schoolboy in the fourth movie is the textbook example of this trope: although the most warmhearted, kind and idealistic member of the band of mercenaries accompanying Rambo, he is still a fearsome warrior who rips through rapists and murderers like a hot knife through butter with his .50 cal. anti-material rifle.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The NES version of Rambo has some mild language that includes "hell" and "damn" and "I swear to God".
- Gorn: The fourth film, just the fourth film... Specifically the ending battle scene. It's on par with the likes of Saw, Hostel and Kill Bill: Vol. 1. That's not to say that the prior three films didn't contain violence, but they were nowhere near as bloody as this one is. Many critics felt it was a bit excessive. Stallone said that the toned-up violence was to emphasize the badness of the situation in Myanmar.
- As for complaints about the "excessive" violence, see Reality Is Unrealistic below.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: Rambo III saw Rambo team up with freedom fighters from Afghanistan. "Freedom fighters" who soon came to be known by another name: The Taliban. By no means the movie's fault, but still...
- Not necessarily so: The warriors whom Rambo fought besides were mujihadeen; many but by no means all joined the Taliban after the end of the Cold War; some would instead join the drug-dealing Uzbek warlords and the communist remnant that the Taliban fought and had almost defeated. Not every mujihad is part of the Taliban, just as not every Talib is a mujihad. Ironically, the Uzbek warlords and the communists would later be portrayed as heroes, once they proved to be useful as a U.S. proxy army.
- The Gunslinger: One of the most famous examples of the type B.
- In the fourth film, Rambo shows that he can also be a type C when he kills half a dozen pirates before they can react.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Fate of the third film's dragon.
- Honor Before Reason: After Rambo finds a reason to fight once more in the second movie, he practically embodies this trope.
- Human Shield: Used briefly by the third film's dragon.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The cops of the first film and the Viet Cong and Dirty Communists of the second film. Averted in the third and fourth films, as the accuracy of the villains are such that Rambo gets shot at least once.
- I'm Your Worst Nightmare
- Infant Immortality: Brutally, mercilessly subverted in Part 4.
- A baby impaled on a bayonet getting waved around like a flag in the background. Crosses the line twice if you're an especially sick fuck.
- Then there was that boy who was ripped away from his mother and thrown into a burning hut.
- A baby impaled on a bayonet getting waved around like a flag in the background. Crosses the line twice if you're an especially sick fuck.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Frequently used on Rambo: by the police in the first movie, the Cong in the second, etc.
- Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Invoked in First Blood. Rambo gets picked up by the police for 'Vagrancy', which leads to them messing with him and dredging up his Vietnam-war trauma, which leads to rapidly escalating troubles, which leads to a dead cop and, eventually, Rambo working a prison-quarry. Towards the end of the movie, during the police's Hope Spot when they think they've managed to kill him, Rambo's old general has this to say:
Trautman: Vagrancy, wasn't it? That's gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA.
- Karma Houdini: Banks("You're man. Don't be a hero.") in Rambo II.
- Kick the Dog: Police brutality directed toward Rambo in the first film triggered his rampage.
- The Burmese Commander is a much more horrifying example.
- The Soviets in the third film.
- Knife Nut: Rambo's serrated-edge hunting knives have become iconic of the series.
- Lighter and Softer: Parts 2 and 3 where Rambo kicks commie ass.
- Lock and Load Montage: Rambo prepping up to kick Viet Cong ass is the second film is the definitive version of this trope in action.
- Made of Explodium: One of the police cars in the first film crashes into another car, and both cars explode.
- Mamet Speak: This exchange from Part 4:
"Where's the boatman?
"15 minutes, that's the deal. We're leaving".
"5 more minutes!"
"He knew the deal!"
"We came together and we fucking leave together!"
"Your life. Let's go."
"Not without Sarah!"
- Manly Tears: "Nothing is over!"
- Mean Brit: Lewis, the former SAS guy turned merc.
- The Mentor: Trautman, who is like a father to Rambo.
- The Missionary: In the fourth film a bunch of Christian missionaries were pretty much the MacGuffin for Rambo to go do his thing.
- Mook Horror Show: Happens in the first two sequels.
- More Dakka: Rambo practically thrives on this.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Burmese army from the fourth film.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Especially the point of the second movie (focusing on the plight of American POWs in Vietnam).
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Potovski in the second film is a major offender; he sounds more like a stereotypical Nazi interrogator, complete viz ze inability to pronounce a "th" sound.
- Hell, Rambo himself; supposedly from "Arizona" but has a thick Brooklyn accent.
- Novelization: Notable here mostly because David Morrell, who wrote the original First Blood novel, went on to pen the novelizations of the two movies that followed, specifically noting and then tossing aside the rather egregious Canon Discontinuity that emerged from the fact Rambo died in the book, but lives on in the films.
- Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo. A few countries fixed this by naming the first film Rambo: (subtitle) and having Numbered Sequels.
- Off with His Head: Done via forged machete and .50 BMG bullets in Rambo.
- One-Man Army: Rambo might well be the Trope Codifier, although see Flanderization.
- Even in the first movie, John Rambo is considered a one man army. Observe:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don't forget one thing.
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.
- One-Liner, Name. One-Liner.
- Only Sane Man: Mitch, the young red-haired cop in First Blood, is the only one to express dismay when Galt starts messing with Rambo. He's the lowest ranking officer, though, so no one listens to him. For his part, he does get off lighter than the rest of the cops, as Rambo disables Mitch by simply stabbing him in a non-vital area (the ass) that's mostly healed by the next time we see him.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Rambo again.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Afghans in the third film. Truth in television, too.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Murdoch... I'M.COMING.TO.GET.YOU!!
- Railing Kill: Third film.
- Rated "M" for Manly: As noted with the image up top, this tends to increase with each sequel; notably, First Blood was not particularly testosterone-poisoned.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Lots of people rolled their eyes at the "exaggerated" carnage at the climax of Rambo, not realizing that a .50 BMG round really will do that sort of stuff to a human body. (It's revealed in DVD bonus features that a soldier in the US military wrote the filmmakers to say how impressed he was with the realistic depiction of the gun.)
- Same with the Tall-Boy exploding. As for why he wasn't poisoned by nuclear fallout, as many internet snarkers expected a cookie for pointing out, it's because the Tall-Boy wasn't a nuclear bomb; any big enough bomb, even massive explosions like battleship Yamato blowing up, will form a mushroom cloud.
- Red Shirt: Averted in Rambo. The mercs are quite capable of holding their own, and only one of them definitively dies in the finale.
- Revised Ending: The ending of First Blood was changed not because they were hoping for sequels, it was changed because they felt the film was bleak enough as it was. Apparently, the original author said he was okay with the change. Said original ending can be seen in a flashback in Part 4. Troutman shoots Rambo in the gut.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Especially the third and fourth movies (focusing on the Soviet war in Afghanistan and Burmese insurrection in Karen State, specifically) but also the second, which is based on an Urban Legend about POWs from the Vietnam War.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The reason Rambo does anything, really.
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: Rambo pwns some Burmese river pirates in the fourth movie.
- He does same thing for their Vietnamese counterparts in the second movie.
- Scars Are Forever: Rambo's scar on his face, a product of torture from Part 2. The scars on his back and chest obtained during his stint as a POW in Vietnam also count.
- Scenery Gorn: The destroyed Karen village in Part 4.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran / Death Seeker: Possible Trope Codifier.
- Shirtless Scene: Of course. Averted in the fourth film, though.
- Shouting Shooter
- Spared by the Adaptation: The originally filmed ending to First Blood was much closer to the novel by David Morrell, which had John Rambo forcing Trautman to kill him. However, due to Rambo's more sympathetic portrayal in the film, a new ending was filmed which had Rambo being arrested instead, making the sequels possible. Due to the relative obscurity of the novel, not many are aware that Rambo was supposed to die in the first film.
- Spotlight-Stealing Title
- Stuff Blowing Up: All over the place, natch. An entire boat blows up in the river scene in Pt. II, and that's just getting starting.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Co's fate in the second movie.
- Take My Hand: Happens in the third film.
- Taking the Bullet: Subverted in Rambo; Rambo dove to save Sarah when a couple of soldiers see them escaping the camp, but the soldiers both get killed by Friendly Sniper Schoolboy before they can shoot.
- Tank Goodness: Prominent in the third film.
- Ten-Minute Retirement: Rambo was ready to leave the POW's in Part 2 behind and take Co with him to America. The she gets shot.
- Testosterone Poisoning: Known for being one of the most male-oriented action films.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: That poor Burmese army jeep driver whose death kick-starts the climatic battle of Part 4 comes to mind; let's not even get started on the gratuitous explosions.
- Title Drop: In the first film, twice in one scene.
Colonel Trautman: Well you did some pushing of your own, John.
John Rambo: They drew first blood, not me.
Colonel Trautman: Look, Johnny, let me come in and get you the hell out of there.
John Rambo: [to himself] They drew first blood.
- Too Dumb to Live: All of the missionaries in Part 4. Even after being attacked by pirates, they still believe they can make a difference by teaching them religion. The leader borders on Ungrateful Bastard, who still threatens to report Rambo to the authorities even after he kills said pirates to save his life (and prevent the girl from being raped).
- Well, the leader of the missionaries IS played by Ryan Chappelle what would you expect!
- Sarah is actually pretty smart, she recognizes the necessity of Rambo's actions and the dangers they all face, especially herself. In a deleted scene, she blames herself for the situation they're in as she convinced Rambo to take them into Burma.
- Truth in Television: Unfortunately, what the Burmese are doing to the Karen is not an much of an exaggeration.
- Many Vietnam veterans were heavily traumatized, and some, sadly, reacted with violence. Stories of crowds of protesters jeering at them upon their return are an exaggeration, though, although some were betitled, and many ended up on the street because they couldn't find a job.
- Aversion: After the second movie, an Urban Legend began to spread that large numbers of American POWs remain in prison camps in Vietnam, where they are tortured and treated horribly. While this undoubtedly happened during the war, there is no evidence any remain there.
- Unwilling Suspension: Realistically portrayed, especially in the third film. Being lifted up by chains on your wrists is painful.
- The War Sequence: Rambo and Trautman face down an entire Soviet army in Part III.
- We Could Have Avoided All This: All Rambo really wanted in the first movie was to get lunch before leaving town, but the sheriff arbitrarily decided that it was a crime for transients to patronize the local diners. Averted in the original novel, where the sheriff was willing to let Rambo buy a meal before leaving town - so long as he ordered it to go. Rambo then went on to repeatedly head back into town after being told to leave until the sheriff decided that nothing short of a couple months in jail would get the drifter to realize that he wasn't welcome.
- We Do the Impossible
- Your Head Asplode: The fourth film.